How to Make Simple Strawberry Syrup

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If you have ever made Simple Syrup for desserts or cocktails, then you will know this is a *simple* thing to put together.  So simple that Clyde the Orangutang from Every Which Way But Loose could mix this up…that is if he isn’t too  busy making right turns and punching out bad guy bikers..am I the only one to remember that movie and the sequels with Clint Eastwood?

Anyway, on to syrup making, as I said, real simple to do….

One of the most beloved fruits on my must-eat list are strawberries, and they can quickly be made into strawberry syrup to be enjoyed over ice cream, on pancakes, baked into desserts, mixed with Sparkling Water and of course, also be the star of my delicious Strawberry Mojito.

DSC06626Take 4 cups of very, very ripe (almost mushy ripe) strawberries and slice them into a large stock pot.  Add 3 cups of water.

DSC06651Over medium-high heat, bring the strawberries and water to a boil.  Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes; stirring occasionally.

DSC06657Remove from heat and strain into another pot through a cheesecloth lined strainer.  Lift up the cheesecloth and hold over the pot for a few minutes to drain remaining juice out.  Do not squeeze the cheesecloth or your syrup will be cloudy.  Discard berries after draining.

DSC06663Add 1 cup granulated sugar to the strawberry juice and heat again to boiling; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

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DSC06668Remove from heat and let cool.  Store in an airtight container and use up within 7-10 days.

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 See….told you it was simple….enjoy!

 

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Straw + Berry = Best Taste of Summer

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Not many people I know turn their nose up at a red, ripe, delicious Strawberry.  If I knew anyone that did, then I’m pretty sure they grew up in Antartica and therefore were deprived of ever knowing what a strawberry was.

DSC06618Here in Ontario, our Berry season is s-h-o-r-t, painfully short.  So short if you are not paying attention, you miss some of the best berries in the world.  You then kick yourself continuously until next year, sticking post-it notes all over the house with these words on them –  ”DON’T MISS BERRY SEASON”.  Your spouse then wonders if he should call the Doctor for you.

Berry Season is only a few weeks every year, stretching from mid/end of June into the 2nd week of July and it is fleeting at best.  It is also highly weather dependent.  Sometimes the spring/early summer is so rainy and cold, there is nary a decent berry to be found, other times it is soooo hot and dry, the berries shrivel.  This year though, we have had a perfect Spring and the berries are certainly showing the fruits of the great weather.  Fruits…get it? ok, lame, but I couldn’t resist.

Now when you are finally able to unshackle yourself from your work desk, forget heading to the grocery store to get some.  Those have been picked DAYS in advance and are already mushy from being squeezed and manhandled by every customer that comes along to inspect them.

Instead, head to one of the local farms in your area.  Here in Southern Ontario we are blessed with many, many  farms within a 15-20 minute drive of most every city.  In the Burlington area, Hutchinson’s Farm is a great place to go, but if you are really pressed for time, then head to the Farmer’s Market where Hutchinson’s has a stall and you can at least get some that were picked that morning.  If I am at the cottage, then I head over to Becker’s Berry Patch which is a short 10 minute drive away.

You can then pick your own gorgeous little red beauties, thus ensuring the freshest possible berries as well as enjoying the great outdoors.  Mind you, if you are up north, bring your big, floppy hat for protection against the Deer Flies, more on those flying F-16′s of the insect world in an upcoming Blueberry post.

Once you get the precious cargo home, promptly plop them in the fridge (un-washed) to store and eat over the next couple days.  Wash them just BEFORE you eat them to preserve that great strawberry flavour.

One of the best ways to enjoy strawberries all year is to freeze them.  If you didn’t get any fresh ones and you know someone who did – you can raid their freezer to get your own.  I am sure they won’t mind at all.  Strawberries freeze very well.  The only ‘slight issue’ for some folks, is that when you thaw them out, they tend to get really soft as the cell structures of the berries collapse.  They still taste fantastic though but are kinda limp looking.

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To freeze berries, hull and rinse and lay them out on a paper towel and dab dry with another paper towel.  Place berries on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and pop in the freezer.  Once frozen, remove the tray and place the berries in a Ziploc® baggie and store in the freezer.

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I have successfully had berries last into February/March of the following year.  Mind you, I have to buy at least 8 x 8 quart baskets as I love to eat berries almost every day with breakfast…or with ice cream..or strawberry/rhubarb pie or just on their own sliced into a bowl.

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But one thing that is a must-make of summer is Strawberry Syrup…which of course, goes into one of my very favourite drinks….

the Strawberry Mojito

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Now if you’ll pardon me… I shall have to prepare for Happy Hour.

Salud!

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Garden Update ~ Haircut # 2…

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Actually, some things have gotten their third and fourth buzz cuts already.  I tell you, things are just bustin’ out all over in the little garden patch in my backyard.  I am really, really having a hard time taming the Sage ‘BRUSH’…pun intended.  This thing is getting bigger by the millisecond, and if it has it’s way, will soon take over the whole space. That is the ginormous Sage Brush in the middle of the pic below, it literally is 3 feet high and almost as wide.

Mighty Sage Brush

The Tomatoes are right behind the Sage in growth spurts.  Zero to 3 feet tall in the time it takes you to say ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ or sing the Do-Re-Mi tune from the Sound Of Music (yes, I am a Julie Andrews movie fan).  Both the Cherry Tomatoes and the Tom Tomato plants are FULL of flowers and there are already a few fruits developing on them.  

Cherry Tomato

The Ground Cherries are popping their fruits off left, right and centre.  Not really a ‘Cherry’, Ground Cherries are actually related to Tomatillos and Gooseberries.  The flavour is tart and almost pineapple-y.  They are enclosed in a husk and are about a half-inch in diameter in size.  They are ready when the husks turn yellowy-brown and the fruits drop to the ground, hence their name.  I love them added to a salad, gives a nice, tart zing to your plate.

Ground Cherries

 My one, lonely Green Tomatillo plant exploded this past week.  I could not believe how much it grew in 5 days.  It is covered in flowers and soon I will be making the luscious Tomatillo Salsa I posted about last week.

Green Tomatillo Plant

I have already snipped my way through the herbs several times now in the last month.  Bunches of Parsley, Sage, Oregano and Lavender are all hanging in the basement to dry.  The Basil is attempting to bolt and I have snipped off its flower heads to keep leaf production going.  Basil doesn’t dry very well, so best to keep it growing as long as you can.  

Lavender

The Cilantro that I allowed to bolt a few weeks ago has certainly not disappointed.  There are a million little seeds developing which will soon be Coriander, either to be used culinarily ground up or kept as seeds for further plantings.

Cilantro growing seeds

My Peppers are *just* starting to get their first flower buds, they went into the ground almost 3 weeks after the tomatoes due to chillier weather back in the beginning of June.  They have a long way to go though before I can harvest any for the myriad of canning production lines I have planned, most notably, my Pickled Serrano Peppers and Mango Pico de Gallo.

Poblano Pepper

The Red & Green Leaf Lettuce is producing steadily too.  I keep cutting off leaves as I need them daily but have thinned a small section to allow them to grow to full size.  The Mesclun Salad Mix is all but done, most have bolted and I have been pulling out of the larger ones and keeping the smaller ones to cut for salads.

Mesclun Salad Mix

After the past 3 years of having a mint plant in the ground and hiring José the Mexican Gardener with his machete to keep it at bay, I ripped it out this spring and planted a few cuttings into a large pot.  Once a week I snip the runners that try to escape the pot.  If left to its own devices, mint would soon envelop the world in its pepperminty leaves, suffocating all life as we know it (or making everyone a mint julep lover).  I am the saviour of the world from the evil mint… or at least my own backyard, you can never let your guard down with a mint plant around.

Mint (in the middle)

Except for the Sage ‘Brush’ plant, all my herbs are in pots this year.  Which saves room in the actual ground for tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos and whatever else I fancy growing this year. 

New this year is a bed of cedar mulch.  Combined with an automatic sprinkler setup to water every 2nd day for 45 minutes, the garden has not dried out in the hot, sunny location and has the added benefit of keeping the weeds down.

Small Patch...BIG Flavours developing!

Stay tuned to see what happens in July, and judging by the amount of the flowers on the tomatoes, I will be looking to offload quite a few of them to unsuspecting family, friends and neighbours…

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How to Make an Umbrella Holder that is Stylin’

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This post is a long time in the ‘Want-To-Make-List’.  Mainly because I could not find a suitable bucket/container to make into an umbrella holder.  I am still not 100% thrilled with the one I found.  I am about 75% thrilled, but will keep my eyes open for the PERFECT container that I hope to find…someday.

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I basically had this put together in under 2 hours.  I would have been done sooner but I had to stop and watch a passing thunderstorm here at the lake.  Nothing like a good thunder-boomer in cottage country to make you stop and admire Mother Nature.

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Back to the project though.  I had been scouring just about every store for a galvanized bucket.  Not just any galvanized bucket either.  I could have gone to Home Depot and picked up a regular bucket, but they were too wide, like milking bucket wide.  I don’t have a milking cow so why would I need a milking bucket?

I needed something narrower, and tall.  I found a beautiful one in Michael’s, embellished with copper ornamental shapes.  But they wanted $27.99!!  I am FAR too cheap to pay that much for a bucket.   This one is the right shape, just not tall enough.  I found this one at the Dollar Store and paid 2 bucks for it.  It would do for now.

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Take your bucket/container and a scrap piece of fabric.  All you need is one that is roughly 18″ square (or large enough to allow for the dimensions below).  Wrap it around the bucket and mark the fabric leaving a 1″ margin at the bottom and sides of the bucket and at least 2″ at the top.

Because the bottom edge is curved, you will need to notch a few pieces up to the first half inch so the seam lies flat when folded and sewn.

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Turn under the side and bottom edges a 1/2″, then fold over again, pin in place.

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You should have a shape like this.

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Sew the side and bottom edges.

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Once the edges are sewn, wrap it around your bucket (wrapping one side edge under the other) with the bottom edge of the bucket even with the bottom edge of the fabric.  Pin in place.

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Take a pencil and mark a line (lightly) along the length of wrapped edge.  This will be your placement line.

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Slide the bucket out of the fabric sleeve and using a blind stitch, hand sew the seams together following the placement line.

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When you get to the top, insert the bucket back in and fold over the top edge into the bucket, overlap the sides so that they lie flat inside the bucket, pin, then stitch the remainder of the seam.

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With the excess fabric at the top, fold inside the bucket and using fabric glue or a hot glue gun, apply to the wrong side of the fabric and press to the inside.

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Depending on the size/weight of your bucket, you may need to add some weights to keep it from toppling over.  I used white decorative garden stones (out of my garden, washed) and filled the bottom.

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Now you are ready to add your umbrellas.

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I am still on the hunt though for a larger bucket.  Once I find it,  then this one will be graduated to something else…don’t know what, but I will re-purpose it somehow.

Maybe I will get a goat to milk. Clearly it is too narrow for a milking cow.

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When life hands you Tomatoes…and more…and more….

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You can do one of two things.  Either grab your hundreds of bushels of tomatoes and head over to Bunol, Spain for the La Tomatina Festival (the world’s biggest Food Fight)  OR…scour the internet, your cookbooks, and while your at it, even your neighbours cookbooks, for as many recipes using tomatoes as you can find.  Then get set to cook, can or eat your way through your bounty of tomatoes until you are so sick of them, you never want to see another tomato for as long as you live.

Or at least until next February, when you pull out the seed catalogue, and fall in love… all over again…with…

The Tomato

I love tomatoes.  So much so that I plant too many of them every year.  I get so excited first thing in the early spring when I start my seeds that I cannot bear to throw any seedlings out, even if I don’t have room for them.  To solve that little dilemma this year, I had hubby build two self-watering containers and took them to the cottage with 3 tomato plants so I will have fresh tomatoes at both locations.

DSC06614The rest are in the garden at home.  There are 4 Tom Tomato plants and 2 Cherry Tomato plants.  I went with just 2 cherry tom plants this year at home.  They are a dwarf, container style variety (so the seed packet said, we shall see), as last year I planted 6 regular cherry tomato plants and let me tell you…I was inundated with the little suckers.  The plants themselves were at least 5 foot high and just as wide.  I was giving them away, eating them, roasting them, canning them and anything else I could think of with them.  I even let the chipmunks steal some.  They would rip them open, take the seeds, then toss the tomato flesh aside like a used rag.  I think I may have been a little overzealous in keeping 6 plants…maybe…just a little..alright..a LOT overzealous.

So this year, I am all prepared. I have my canning jars all lined up.  I shall be making Tomato Sauce, Chunky Home~Made Salsa, Stewed Tomatoes, Chiles with Tomatoes (a suitable clone for RoTel for those Canucks that do not know what it is), Tomato~Basil Jam, my easy-peasy Bruschetta, tossing them in salads daily and many, many other recipes…. I will be the Tomato Canning Queen.  I could possibly even compete with Hunt’s or Heinz….  no really, I bet I could.  Ok, probably not, but I’d give them a good run for their money none-the-less.

Meanwhile, I will keep my pantry and freezer stocked full of delicious tomato goodness to get me through fall, winter and spring until I once again have a garden full of sweet,  delicious, red, ripe tomatoes.

Oh…and if you know of any new, innovative, funky ideas to use up tomatoes…please leave your recipes here…. I will welcome them with open arms and mouth….

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How To Make Home-Made Tortilla Chips

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Yum…who doesn’t love tortilla chips and salsa? or with Guacamole? or heck, just hoovering them up out of the bag mindlessly while you sit in front of the tv watching Guy Fieri nosh his way through triple bypass inducing food on Triple D.  Admit it, you are just like that aren’t you?

I am…EXCEPT…the only thing I do not like about commercial tortilla chips is the salt.

I mean really, do they need to syphon so much water from the Mediterranean and dry it out and then douse the chips with them?  Seems like it to me. I for one can’t take all that salt, my tongue peels several layers the next day after such an event and leaves me with zero taste buds left.

I have never really been a ‘Salty’ person.  They say you are either a ‘Sweets’ person or a ‘Salty’ type…me, I am definitely a ‘Sweets’ kind of gal.  BUT, I do crave tortilla chips and therefore I was on a mission to FIND some type that didn’t make my tongue peel or bloat me up with sodium.

Not so easy a task let me tell you.  So I did the next best thing, I MADE my own.  This way, you can enjoy your tortilla chips saltless (or with a controlled amount, your preference) or  add different flavourings to whatever tickles your taste buds.

Here is my version of home-made tortilla chips.  They are SO easy to make and you will never go back to buying commercially made ones again (unless you want your tongue to peel).

Chipotle~Lime Tortilla Chips

Ingredients

1 bag 6″ Whole Wheat Tortillas
One Lime, juiced (about 2 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Ground Chipotle Chile Powder

DSC06280Directions

Using a pizza wheel, cut tortillas into triangles and arrange them on parchment paper lined cookie sheets.

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Whisk the Olive Oil and the Lime Juice together and using a pastry brush, cover the top side of the torilla chips with the oil/juice mixture.

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DSC06282Sprinkle lightly with the Ground Chipotle Chile powder (this stuff is s-p-i-c-y! therfore a little goes a looong way).

DSC06285Bake in a 375F° oven for about 10-12 minutes, keep an eye on them though, they go from lightly browned and crisp to burnt in seconds.  Depending on how hot your oven is.

Remove them from the oven, flip them over, then repeat the brushing of oil/juice and sprinkling of the chipotle chile powder.  Then place them back in the oven to crisp up the top side (about another 10 minutes or so).

DSC06287Once done, remove them from the oven to cool and then serve with your fav salsa, guacamole or chip dip.

Enjoy!

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What to do when your Cilantro Bolts…

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Other than pull your hair out, scream in frustration, angrily rip it out by its roots and burn it in a bonfire….ok, that may be extreme….but if you are fond of growing herbs (like me), than take heed to what I am about to tell you.  Cilantro, Basil, Sage, etc. and often many lettuces have an annoyingly bad habit of doing something called ‘bolting’ when it gets too hot outside.

Bolting refers to the plant slowing down leaf production in favour of flowering and setting seed.  The plants main focus (after leaf production for food/growth) is to generate flowers which turns into fruits and/or seeds (depending on the plant) which then completes the life cycle of the plant.  Something your plant is programmed to do like a robot and you have ZERO control over unless you are a mad scientist and know something I don’t.

 DSC06400This is my first Cilantro plant that I grew from seeds started back in March….and it bolted 2 weeks ago.  Aside from cutting a vase full, I am actually letting this one flower in its planter box and set seed so I can collect the seeds to start over next spring (saves $$$ on buying new seed packets, I am cheap after all).

The best way to handle plant types that make a habit of bolting (as I have found in the past year or so of immersing myself into this gardening business), is to plant successive seeds of whatever you like (in my case, its Cilantro) all summer long.  Every 2 weeks, I start a new batch of seeds in a pot, like these below, they sprouted up over the very rainy weekend we just had.

DSC06405Then, when the oldest plants start to bolt, I have younger plants that fulfill my culinary needs without resorting to cursing out the plant for its apparent wonton behaviour and then head to the nearest grocery store to buy a HUGE handful of dried out ‘fresh’ Cilantro at an inflated price.

DSC06407Here is a batch that is 3 weeks old, Their second and third sets of leaves have unfurled and they are well on their way.

DSC06408This batch is about 5 weeks old, look and compare the shape of the leaves on this one to the first picture above of the bolted Cilantro in the vase.  The shape of the leaves change from wide and spread out to almost needle-like.  It doesn’t affect the flavour of the leaves, you just need to use a lot more Cilantro leaves when a plant has bolted as opposed to one that hasn’t.

I always like to have fresh Cilantro on hand for when I get the urge for a bowl of Pico de Gallo or Guacamole, which is just about every day of the week it seems!

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What Was Your First……Kitchen Disaster?

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I don’t mean burning toast in the toaster, or dropping an egg on the floor….Those are trivial nuisances that go hand in hand with learning your way around a Kitchen in your early Adult Years.

What I want to know is, what was your first full-blown, almost burned the house down or chopped your finger off with a Ginsu knife bad experience?

I want to hear your stories, cause someone out there has to have a story just as bad as mine and I would hate to feel alone in my embarrassments.

I actually have 2, the very first one not being that bad, but more funny (and rather messy) than anything else.

My husband and I had just started living together (yes, living in sin, we did so for 2 years before we made it official, so this was sometime back in 1979) and my brother was also staying with us after he moved back from Northern Ontario and figured he’d sponge off his sister for a while (I still love him very much even though he almost ate us out of house and home) before he landed a job.

ANYWAY, I decided to bake potatoes in the oven to go with dinner (and for some reason, I can NOT recall what the main dish was??).  After about 45 minutes of them being in the oven, we hear this muffled ‘BOOM’ sound coming from the kitchen.

Well, my brother keeled over laughing as he knew right away what it was (apparently he did the same while living with our Aunt & Uncle up north), me, I just looked at him and said ‘what’s so funny? Do you know what that was?’….

He couldn’t stop laughing, he managed to blurt out… ‘Open the oven door and see’…

So I head to the kitchen and open the door….and….  one of the potatoes was blown apart to smithereens (I like the word smithereens, somehow it is the perfect word for this story) all over the inside of the oven.

Apparently I forgot to ‘prick’ the potatoes to vent the pressure.

Doofus.

What a friggen mess.  It took me forever to clean it up, especially since I had to wait until after we were done dinner and the oven cooled down and by then it was little black bits burned onto everything. I am sure my brother still giggles to this day about his sister’s early cooking attempts…

Now on to the REALLY embarrassing story…the one I eluded to at the end of my “About Me” page when I first launched this site.

It was in the mid-1980’s and we had just moved to Burlington from Hamilton.  My In-Laws were having a new townhouse built that was to include all new appliances and they were having one of the newly invented built-in Microwave/Fan combo units being installed so they gave us their old microwave to use as it was still good and we didn’t have one yet.

This thing was a monster.   It was bigger than the kitchen, bigger than Noah’s Ark even…no really, I swear…and I believe one of the first ones ever made in or around 1812.  Hubby’s Grandpa couldn’t go near it with his pacemaker or who knows what would have happened to him.  His Doc told him to stay away from all microwaves.  So he did, bless his heart, it was probably the only time he listened to his Doctor….

The first week we had this wondrously ginormous time-saving invention, I thought to myself, why spend almost an hour cooking carrots on the stove when I could use the microwave and cook them much, much quicker!

Sounded like a great plan to me.

So I get out one of my corning ware dishes (with a glass lid) and put some chopped carrots and water in it, put the lid on and popped it in the microwave.

I set the timer and then went out back to see what the kids were up to in the yard…. Next thing I know, hubs comes out and says…’what do you have in the microwave? It has been running for an awfully long time and I smell something burning’…

 

Oh S____!!!!!!

 

We run into the kitchen and holy smokes… I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The glass lid of the corning ware dish was MOLTEN, yes, MOLTEN and melting INTO the corning ware dish!  The carrots had become little, black charcoal briquettes in the bottom of the dish (BBQ anyone?)

Apparently I set the timer to 1.5 hours instead of 15 minutes on full power.

Doofus!

Talk about Nuclear accidents…This was almost on the same scale as Chernobyl… or Three Mile Island…ok, maybe not, but it really was almost as scary.

So I shut off the microwave and went to open the door, hubs said ‘NO! leave it closed!’…he knew what was coming, the disaster was yet to be over.

Within 2 minutes of it cooling down, the glass lid shattered into a gazillion shards like it was hit by a bullet.  JEEZ! Smart man I married.  We would have had shards of glass ALL over the kitchen and we would have been instantly acupunctured to boot.

He, nor I will ever forget this for the rest of our lives…me, chef extraordinaire NOW, melted a glass lid back in my early cooking days.

 Again….Total Doofus.

Miraculously, the dish itself was fine, just the lid was ruined ~ FYI, the melting point for glass is somewhere around 2,500 Degrees FAHRENHEIT!  All I can say is when I do something…..go big or go home!

To this day, I still have that little square corning ware dish and use it quite often…it just doesn’t have a lid anymore, and it isn’t allowed back in the microwave either…no sense tempting fate again.

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So that’s my Kitchen Disaster story… and I am SO looking forward to hearing yours.  Please make sure you leave a comment telling me your saga as there is a prize for the WORST, SCARIEST Kitchen Disaster Story, and no, the prize isn’t a new microwave oven!

The winner will be chosen next Tuesday, June 8th….so…what are you waiting for?  Fess up!

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